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Yesterday I got into an online pissing match over an old blog post. Strangely, the post is one I consider a throwaway post, something written on the fly that didn’t seem to be particularly controversial. I should have known better. Any post that breathes of politics in even the most general way can spark a pissing match.

Thankfully, I’ve had a little experience with online pissing matches before, both through my blog and by witnessing the continual pissing matches my husband follows and contributes to in an online news forum.

Pissing matches are often stressful due to the high passion exhibited by those involved. Contestants argue past one another and try not to concede anything to the other side. In fact, if it appears someone is going to have to concede something, she’ll leave the discussion in order to save face. Further, because people engaged in a pissing match often don’t know each other, personal attacks, which ratchet up the stress, are common. There’s rarely any clear winner in an online pissing match, which can leave both sides feeling unheard.

With all the negativity involved in online pissing matches (OPM), why would anyone bother to participate? Because there are some benefits to be had from them. I can think of at least eleven …

1) Through OPMs, you can learn how to recognize and use various debate techniques, such as ad hominem attacks. Here’s a website that will get you started: Logical Fallacies and the Art of Debate.

2) OPMs give those who typically avoid conflict (that’d be me!) a way to practice defending their positions.

3) OPMs present you with the viewpoints of others. Because people approach a topic with different worldviews and experiences, OPMs  show us why we have difficulty agreeing on public policy.

4) OPMs force you to examine your own beliefs. Do they need to be reconsidered or adjusted given the information presented, or do they make your beliefs more solid because the arguments against them are weak?

5) OPMs cause you to do research to back up your side of the debate. This research may also give you a different perspective, which may lead you to a different conclusion.

6) OPMs provide entertainment for lurkers. (“Fight! Fight!”) Those lurkers just might learn something from the pissing match you’re having.

7) OPMs give you practice in shucking off personal attacks (those pesky ad hominem arguments). You can also use them to practice remaining calm and reasonable, even if you’re feeling anything but. If you can avoid using ad hominem arguments, the points you make will appear to be more valid to lurkers, simply because you’re not being a total jerkface. (Saying someone is a total jerkface is an ad hominem attack, in case you were wondering.😉 )

8 ) OPMs reveal your allies, whether those allies are sharing a forum with you or they are your family and friends watching you make your case. (Your allies will keep you sane during frustrating OPMs.)

9) OPMs give you something to discuss with your family, friends, and hairdresser. (Hubby and I extensively talked about yesterday’s OPM. I asked him if he would tell me if I were living in the La-La Land of Faeries and Unicorns – one of the ad hominem arguments made against me. Hubby said he would. And I may have brought up the OPM with my hairdresser this morning. Just maybe.)

10) OPMs teach you when to let go of the debate. For as serious as OPMs can feel, in the end, there doesn’t have to be a winner. OPMs are not Packers vs. Steelers games, after all. There’s no cash prize or trophy to bring home for winning, just passionately expressed brain food. If an OPM gets too stressful, there is no shame in walking away, even if it’s to save face and keep from “losing.” (If there are no clear winners, there are no clear losers, either.)

11) Finally, OPMs build courage. It would be easy to not engage in online communities, to not express anything remotely controversial (puppies and kitties and bunnies, oh my!), to not share your being with anyone and let your views wither under a deep ocean rock. But what fun is that? Use your courage to express yourself, defend your position, and reap the benefits of online pissing matches.

Have you ever been involved with an online pissing match? How did you feel during the process? Do you have any tips for getting through an OPM? Are there any other benefits to an OPM that should be added to the ones listed here?